Much ado about nothing? Blowing Rock Town Council adopts climate change resolution by 3-2 vote

Much ado about nothing? Blowing Rock Town Council adopts climate change resolution by 3-2 vote
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Dr. Harvard Ayers, Professor Emeritus, Appalachian State University, explains climate change and the burning of fossil fuels as the root cause.

By David Rogers. March 17, 2018. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Blowing Rock’s Board of Commissioners passed a resolution in support of a nationwide effort to fight climate change by transitioning from a fossil fuels-based economy to 100% clean, renewable energy by the year 2050, but it was not without dissent. The resolution advanced by Dr. Harvard Ayers, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at Appalachian State University and Co-Executive Director of the North Carolina Climate Solutions Coalition, passed by a narrow 3-2 margin.

COVER IMAGE: Mayor Charlie Sellers, left, shakes hands with Doug Matheson after thanking him for his years of service on the TDA Board.  It caught Matheson a little bit by surprise. All photographic images by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

Jim Steele, right: “Some other smart people argue that there is no climate change.”

Voting in favor of the resolution were Mayor Pro-Tem Albert Yount and Commissioners Sue Sweeting and Virginia Powell.  After the meeting, Yount noted to Blowing Rock News, “It is a laudable goal. It costs us nothing and it commits us to nothing. I couldn’t see any reason not to support it.”

Nay votes were cast by Commissioners Jim Steele and Doug Matheson. Matheson explained that he had attended a convention of North Carolina resort town officials recently and the same resolution was presented to that body.  He noted that the group was dominated by coastal resort towns, who felt that their interests were threatened because resolution promoted the employment of wind turbines off of the North Carolina coast, so that group voted not to support it.  Dr. Ayers pointed out that the wind turbines would have to be installed so far out into the ocean that they would not be visible, but Matheson replied, “I feel like if I was to support this resolution now, I would be stabbing my convention brothers in the back.”

Steele objected to the resolution, he said, because in his reading about the climate change issue, “There are a lot of other smart people who are taking the opposite view.”  As a consequence, he could not readily embrace the notion of climate change.

Things got a little testy after Ayers explained how fossil fuels were affecting the environment and began listing the numerous scientists and scientific organizations who are in support of the fossil fuels-climate change thesis, including top scientists from almost all of the institutions in the University of North Carolina system, as well as prominent private universities such as Duke, Davidson, Guilford and Catawba, among many others.

Ayers speaks to audience members about climate change.

Steele responded, “Well, there are a lot of other smart people — maybe not as smart as you — who have a different opinion.”  Ayers interrupted, “I resent that remark because now you are talking down to me.” While Steele denied that he was talking down to him, the tension remained palpable until after the vote was taken and the measure passed, by the narrowest of margins.

Early in his presentation, Ayers reported that both the Boone Town Council and the Watauga County Commissioners had unanimously passed the resolution.  He said that 14 out of 15 bodies to whom they had presented the resolution had passed it, unanimously.  He disclosed that Boone was even taking their support a bit further, authorizing certain and specific steps to materially demonstrate the town’s support by adopting renewable energy-based strategies.

Public Hearing: Trash and Recycling Amendments

The only Public Hearing of the evening centered around proposed amendments to the trash and recycle can ordinance.  Key amendments unanimously approved by the Commissioners include:

  • Solid waste and recycling containers are to be placed within 10 feet of the paved portion of the street or road serving the property not before 5:00 pm on the night prior to the day of collection and it must be removed from the curb by 7:00 am the day after collection.
  • Town employees will retrieve solid waste and recycling containers that are enclosed in a bin. Enclosure bins shall not be closer than six feet from the edge of the street pavement, not farther than 12 feet from the street, and shall not impede sight distances of neighboring driveways.  Acceptable enclosure bins constructed after July 1, 2018, must be opaque on four sides, at least four feet high, approved by the Public Works Director and maintained in good condition..
Police Chief Tony Jones discussed radar signage technology.

Commissioner Steele stated that communicating the Town’s expectations of residents and business owners affected by these amendments is vitally important.  Planning Director Kevin Rothrock and Town Manager Ed Evans stated that not only would the new ordinances be posted on the Town’s website, but details also explained in the Town newsletter.

Electronic Speed Monitoring

In response to public comments regarding excessive vehicle speeds on Valley Blvd. and other major streets such as Green Hill Rd. and Main St. on both ends of downtown, Police Chief Tony Jones provided quotes for different kinds of more permanent radar-related signs. He indicated that when drivers see how fast they are going compared to the posted speed limit, they usually slow down. Jones’ recommendation was for the smaller types of radar-driven digital signage to be placed on Green Hill Rd., North Main St., South Main St., and other potential arteries and not to spend the money for the larger signs intended for Valley Blvd.  He indicated that the volume of traffic on the ancillary streets is insufficient to justify stationing officers, that they would be better and more efficiently deployed on Valley Blvd.  Jones reported that his officers wrote more than 1,000 citations in 2017, some 74% of them to people living outside of Watauga County and only a small fraction from Blowing Rock.  When asked by Commissioner Sweeting, Jones agreed that the new signal light scheduled for installation at Valley Blvd.’s intersection with South Main St. should help slow traffic down.

“Most of the citations on Valley Blvd.,” the police chief revealed, “are on the northbound side, with people headed toward Boone.”

Valley Blvd. Mart Arm Signage

Planning Director Kevin Rothrock holds a sample of what the new signage on the mast arms at Valley Blvd. signalized intersections will look like.

The Board of Commissioners previously requested that Planning Director Kevin Rothrock secure quotes for signage to go on the Valley Blvd. mast arms at the signalized intersections.  There will be a total of 22 signs, each approximately five feet in length, and would be black with reflective white letters.  Each sign will be mounted on the face of the mast arms. The lowest quote of $5,723.94 was from 4S Sign & Supply of Gaffney, SC.

While the special signage is intended only for Valley Blvd. where marginally faster moving traffic may require larger signage for visibility and, ultimately, better traffic flow and safety, new board member Virginia Powell, who was not on the Board of Commissioners when the instructions were given for securing bids for signage, objected.  She declared, “These large signs do not have a small town feel.”

The 4S Sign & Supply bid was accepted by the Board of Commissioners, 4-1, with Powell being the lone negative vote.

America in Bloom

Sue Sweet of Garden Club provides information about America in Bloom initiative

Susan Sweet, representing the Blowing Rock Garden Club, provided the Town Council members with information about the upcoming America in Bloom event and the Garden Club’s initiative to coordinate volunteers from the many different organizations in Blowing Rock. She indicated that the America in Bloom programs was a competition of sorts to encourage communities across the nation to improve quality of life through beautification efforts during the summer.  A panel of judges is expected to be in Blowing Rock between July 11th and 20th, and the Garden Club is hoping to host an event at the American Legion Building sometime during that time frame. The America in Bloom participating communities receive:

  • On-site, one on one mentoring and coaching by a team of expert America in Bloom judges
  • Evaluations based on “what you do with what you have” and scores reflecting a community’s potential rather than compared with others
  • A detailed written report highlighting strengths and offering recommendations for improvement
  • Nationwide recognition as a community that plants pride and excels at Making America Bloom
  • A high-quality America in Bloom sign to display to residents and visitors

Sweet’s presentation was for informational purposes only. No vote was required.

Consent Agenda

  • 2018 Road Resurfacing Project: Bid award to Tri-County Paving, Inc.
  • Davant Field Improvements: Bid award to Greene Construction, Inc.
  • Delinquent Taxes: advertisement date request
  • Budget Amendment: Water Plant cut-off valve
  • Minor revision to Southmarke CUP
  • Town of Blowing Rock Finance Policy addendum

Manager’s Report

  • The May Town Council meeting will be held on May 15 instead of May 8
  • The letter sent out to residents without sewer service on Chestnut Drive, Chestnut Circle, and Grandfather Ave. generated only three responses. Two were in favor of getting more information and one not in favor
  • A BRAAC member appointee has declined his reappointment and it has been advertised for candidates to bring to Council’s attention at the April Town Council meeting
  • Eight items no longer being used by the town, all with potential values under $30k, were put up for sale on GovDeals. Town Manager Ed Evans reported that  all items were sold, generating $36,065 of revenue from sold assets. The items included a truck, trash truck, truck with scraper blade, bush hog mower, diesel generator, forklift and Ford Crown Victoria police car no longer being used.
  • 12 new trees have been received for Memorial Park and will be planted over the next two weeks, with one already in the ground

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